One-Day Journalists’ Workshop on
(Report of training workshop held at Sindbad Hotel, Multan, on 1st
Organised by SAMAR in collaboration with Oxfam GB
2. Highlights of the workshop
6. Outcome of the workshop
In the wake of recent floods in southern Punjab, Society for Alternative Media
and Research (SAMAR), in collaboration with the Oxfam GB, carried out a
research study in the districts of Layyah, Muzaffargarh, and Dera Ghazi Khan to
critically analyse the role media played in disaster communication by reporting
the extent of damages and provision of relief to the affected communities. To
present an objective and impartial view of the flood reporting, SAMAR
maintained an audio and visual record of the testimonies as well in the shape of
a documentary film report.
The findings of the research brought forth some startling facts about the
information dissemination process and disaster communication approaches of
mainstream media. The in-depth analysis of flood reporting and survey of flood-
hit communities revealed that disaster reporting of mainstream journalists was
more or less confined to the coverage of catastrophic ‘event’ rather than the
whole ‘process’ of disaster.
It was learnt that the journalist fraternity in the disaster-prone areas lacked basic
infrastructure and professionalism partly because of an evident urban bias and
exploitation by their organisations. Meanwhile, flood-hit communities had
complained of the apathy of local press in playing their role to mitigate their
damages and condemned the media for not disseminating timely information for
flood preparedness. Local reporters and correspondents, on the other hand,
expressed their discontent on the resources available to them and blamed the
media organisations for overlooking the significance of journalists’ capacity
building in disaster communication.
The aforementioned study of SAMAR suggested that there was a dire need to
change the communication approach of local journalists in order to make disaster
reporting more effective and media’s role in mitigation process more efficient.
Following up with the findings of its research report, Society for Alternative
Media and Research, in collaboration with Oxfam, chalked out a one-day
training workshop on ‘Disaster Reporting’ for the journalists in Multan on
October 1st, 2005.
Main objectives of the workshop were:
To build the capacity of the journalists of disaster-prone areas
and improve disaster reporting with an emphasis on process-
To sensitise and train the journalists on the role of media in
To provide a forum to reporters and editors of newspapers to
discuss the ways and means for better disaster communication.
Strategically organised in a low-key manner the workshop was held with a
vision to bridge gap between the local reporters and national editorial personnel
along with the facilitation of knowledge transfer to the media men of disaster-
prone areas. Training modules were designed to communicate the conceptual
framework of disaster reporting to the journalists and impart technical training
fulfilling all the requirements of professionalism.
Highlights of the workshop
Core themes of the sessions
Overview of the role of media in disaster management
Concept of disaster communication
Approaches and phases of disaster reporting
Significance of process-based approach in disaster reporting
Ethical responsibility of journalists while reporting catastrophe
Screening of documentary “Sailab”
Interactive technical session
Group work presentations
Observations and experience sharing
Distribution of certificates
Mr. Ghani Chuadhry Former Director General, APP
Mr. Mazhar Arif Executive Director, SAMAR and former Editor
Mr. Mushtaq Gadi Environment Activist
Mr. Shaukat Ashfaq Resident Editor, Daily Pakistan, Multan
Dr. Karim Malik Chairman, Mass Communication Department,
Baha Uddin Zakaria University, Multan
SAMAR ensured the maximum participation of the newsmen and especially
invited the journalists of remote areas. 30 working journalists from Multan, Kot
Addu, Taunsa, Muzaffargarh and Layyah attended the workshop.
An overview of the role of media in disaster management:
experiences and observations
Mazhar Arif opened the session with his welcome note and a historical
background of the communities’ associations with rivers in the subcontinent. He
discussed with the audience approaches of ‘dua’ and ‘dawa’-taken by these
primitive societies to confront the deluge of rivers. Bringing to the light the
vision, mission and main objectives of the Socity for Alternative MEDIA, Mazhar
Arif gave a brief overview of the media’s role in recent floods in southern
Resource person, Ghani Chaudhry in his inaugural address shared his
experiences as a journalist and described the norms and practices of mainstream
media in Pakistan. Later, he defined the concept of disaster communication and
explained the natural and human induced disasters, their impact on human life
and the process of disseminating disaster information.
Ghani Chuahdary made the participants aware of the nature of disaster by
bifurcating it into following two types and illustrated how one is predictable and
the other is not:
a) Slow disaster
b) Sudden disaster
Mr. Chahdary presented a global perspective on disaster management and told
about the toll natural and human induced disasters had been taking on nations’
economy. He said in last 10 months the world had severely been hit by
disastrous tsunamis in Indonesia, South Asian floods and hurricane Katrina &
Rita which caused colossal damage to these countries.
Emphasising the role of disaster communication in disaster management, he
observed that despite early warning, Katrina hurricane had wreaked havoc due
to the local and federal government’s slackness, poor means of communication,
at-risk communities’ reluctance to evacuation and the lack of an integrated
disaster communication strategy. He said the American media in its initial
disaster coverage exaggerated the physical damage and around 10,000 casualties
were reported by the media whereas the actual number of persons killed was
841. On the contrary, at the time of Rita the extent of damage was considerably
reduced owing to the effective dissemination of early warning information and
the lessons learnt from the previous catastrophe.
Ghani Chaudhry juxtaposed the global preparedness levels with the disaster
management mechanism of Pakistan by adding that disasters instigate nations to
make reforms in legislation and policy making. However in Pakistan, despite the
frequent occurrence of floods, derailments and mine explosions, no legislation
had ever been formulated with regard to the labourers’ safety or improvement in
He categorized the disaster into four phases and urged the journalists to report
disaster within an integrated context and play the watchdog to ascertain the
government’s precautionary measures and rescue or rehabilitation policies. He
laid down the guiding principles for the structure of disaster story and told the
audience that disaster reporting fall under spot reporting. He concluded the
session while remarking that over the last half century, human-induced disasters
had affected the modern world more severely as compared to natural disasters.
Mazhar Arif asked the participants to share their reporting experiences and
observations with the forum.
Farid Khan of Daily Times expressed his reservations on reporting the relief
audit as both the media organizations and the government tend to withhold the
information which is why the economic impact of the floods could not be
Another correspondent of the daily Nawa-i-waqt drew attention towards the
journalist’s insecurity in highlighting sensitive issues concerning the higher
Mazhar Arif commented that local correspondents have to face their employer’s
indiscrimination, issues of space, limitation of resources, etc.
Ghazanfar Hashmi from daily Ausaf complained that in spite of limited
resources, correspondents of Taunsa sent news to the desk regularly but the
government did not take any notice and the affectees were not provided with
due relief package.
Abdul Shakoor said when the reporters file a news story, the organizations ask
them to verify that information from the concerned party which affects the
objectivity of news as the officials always conceal the true information.
Luqman Asad from daily Sahafat remarked that although the journalists could
not be held responsible solely for misreporting disastrous events, they went extra
miles during the flood and the Chief Minister’s visit of the disaster-hit areas was
a result of local press’s frequent reporting.
Ghazanffar Abbas of daily Khabrain pointed out the lack of reporting on the
ensuing damage done to the historical buildings and cultural heritage after the
Luqman Asad observed the lack of training, resources and realistic emolument
as the main impediment in the effective disaster reporting.
Responding to the allegations against editorial staff, senior sub-editor of Nawa-i-
waqt, Iqbal Hiraj, said that stories filed to their repective newspapers by local
reporters are woefully short on sources, arrangement and appropriate
vocabulary because the correspondents are not qualified and trained. He said
that editors’ job of selecting, editing and rewriting of news items coupled with
meeting the demands of deadline and commercialism, gets harder because of
non-professional attitude of local correspondents.
Mazhar Arfi wrapped up the discussion suggesting that the desk personnel
needed to build a rapport with the correspondents based in remote areas, and
the newspaper owners had the responsibility to facilitate the local
correspondents who play key role in the coverage of disasters.
Approaches, biases, ethics and why to adopt process-based approach?
The second session started with the screening of the documentary film “Sailab”
produced by Society for Alternative Media & Research, with the collaboration of
Oxfam, and based on the testimonial records of flood-hit communities and local
journalists. The audience appreciated SAMAR’s alternative approach to cover the
disaster and termed the documentary as a great learning experience for getting
familiar with the relatively novel concept of disaster communication.
After the film show, Mushtaq Gadi highlighted the conceptual aspects of disaster
communication. He said the haplessness of victims and sudden occurrence of
disasters, appeal the propagandist instinct of journalists who cash in on the
calamity and at times override the journalistic ethics. He stressed that reporters
should approach the dissemination process by taking the course of investigative
journalism instead of mere sensationalisation. Analysing natural and human
induced disasters he said in modern times human intervention, which he dubbed
as development-induced disaster, has increased the magnitude of natural
He referred Chashma Right Bank Canal as a major contributor to development
induced disasters which caused siltation and erosion thus taking toll on
agricultural production. He termed it journalist’s prime responsibility to find out
the relation between natural and development induced disaster.
He explained how the politicisation of disaster by the government and media
justifies the anti-masses development like big dams, motorways and bridges. He
elucidated the politics of building dams to counter floods for vested interests,
which encourage the human activity along rivers and endanger the ecosystem.
Thus the human settlements near dams are prone to danger and deforestation
and eventually affecting the livelihood.
Mr. Gadi said that hazard preparedness plans and policies should not be driven
by foreign interest; instead, the at-risk community’s involvement in decision
making should be ensured.
He said the flood is exploited as a media event for political purpose but it is the
journalists who could avoid exploiting the victim-hood of the affectees through
balanced reporting while considering all aspects.
Afterwards, Mazhar Arif started the interactive technical session by imparting
training to the journalists on process based approach of disaster communication.
He told the participants that the mere event-based reporting might mislead the
masses whereas process based approach leads to the resolution of the crisis. He
said that media paid more attention to the physical structure of disaster than the
social, economic and political context.
He explained the journalists how they should critically assess the government’s
disaster management plan during non-disaster, pre-disaster and post-disaster
phases and said their approach towards vulnerable communities should be
people-centric. He asked them to maintain accuracy, balance and clarity and
avoid using technical terms in order to communicate the message fairly.
Group Work- presentations and recommendations
In the third session all the participants were divided into four groups and asked
to give their suggestions for the improvement of disaster reporting. They were
asked to discuss their problems with each other and write down their
suggestions on flip chart within 45 minutes. Each group chose its group leader,
who finally gave the presentation on the following themes:
Group 1: Resources for correspondents
Group 2: Sources of information
Group 3: Security of correspondents
Group 4: Responsibilities of media organizations
Following participants were selected as the group leaders:
Group 1: Farid Ullah Khan
Group 2: Nazar Baloch
Group 3: Abdul Shakoor
Group 4: Arif Naqvi
Presentations of the groups
Organization should pay minimum 3-5 thousand rupees to the
correspondents as remuneration
Provision of necessary infrastructure like transport, computer, fax, camera
Facility of free fax and phone and payment of bills by media organizations
Facilitation of access to information
Capacity building and training of correspondents
Incentives for correspondents on special occasions
Group could not present their recommendation since the group members did not
follow the topic given to them and the group leader’s presentation was based on
‘finding’ sources of information instead of suggesting some solutions.
Accreditation card for the reporters’ safety
Organizations should discourage the trend of commercialization
Security from police and influential people
Establishment of special information desks at DCO’s office
Build a rapport with local correspondents
Ensure security of the reporters
Training of reporters
Following the presentations, Dr. Karim Malik, Chairman of Mass
Communication Department, Bahauddin Zakria University, Multan, distributed
certificates among the participants.
While concluding the workshop, Dr. Karim Malik, urged the journalists to adopt
accurate disaster reporting and focus on field reporting during disasters instead
of filing table stories. He emphasized that the local press had an important role in
reporting calamitous events.
Shaukat Ashfaq, Resident Editor, daily Pakistan, Multan, in his concluding
remarks blamed the mainstream media for not doing justice to fair disaster
reporting and said media in Pakistan are in dismal state since journalism had
become a business. He pointed out the lack of follow-up reporting during recent
In the end Mazhar Arif gave the vote of thanks and assured the audience that
SAMAR would organize more training workshops for journalists in future as
Conclusion and Recommendations
The workshop provided the journalists with an open forum to share their views
about obstacles in information generation and put forward their
recommendations for mitigating the damage through an integrated disaster
communication strategy. The interactive sessions moderated by friendly resource
persons helped the local journalists express themselves and participate actively.
Key recommendations made by the workshop were as under:
1. Media organizations and other related institutions should organize
training workshops for building the journalists’ capacity on disaster
2. There should be a beat for disaster reporting to cover the disaster related
3. Correspondents of remote areas lack all the necessary infrastructure so
availability of basic facilities e.g. transport, fax, phone, and life jackets
should be the priority of media organizations.
4. Discrimination against journalists of remote areas be discouraged and
organizations should provide support to all journalists without being
5. Organizations must ensure the remuneration of local correspondents and
arrange for stipends and incentives to encourage the marginalized local
Outcome of the workshop
The workshop achieved following objectives:
Initiation of a debate on disaster communication
Conceptual orientation of reporters on disaster communication
Facilitation of the networking of journalists
Open discussion between editorial staff and correspondents